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Rogers' Ignite TV Not Yet Taking Off

Even as it continues its rollout of its new Ignite TV service, Rogers Communications' embrace of Comcast's cloud-based X1 video platform is not paying off in pay-TV subscriber or revenue gains yet.

Indeed, as the large Canadian cable and wireless operator disclosed in its mainly dreary second-quarter earnings report Tuesday morning, Ignite TV has not exactly ignited pay-TV growth so far. Instead, the Toronto-based company shed 26,000 video customers in the latest quarter, nearly three times as many as it did a year ago, to lower its total to 1.63 million. It also reported video revenues of C$355 million, down 1% from its year-earlier total.

The lower subscriber and revenue results came in as Rogers, the largest MSO in Canada, continues to roll out Ignite TV aggressively throughout its 4.4-million-home footprint. The cableco, which completed its deployment of Ignite across the populous province of Ontario last year, extended its reach to Newfoundland in the spring and plans to roll out Ignite in New Brunswick this summer.

Despite these lackluster numbers, Rogers officials insisted on the earnings call that the Ignite TV rollout is going well. As they did at a financial conference in Toronto back in March, they cited such other key metrics as greater video use, higher satisfaction scores and lower video churn rates among Ignite subscribers.

"We're seeing good results," declared Rogers CFO Tony Stafferi. In particular, he noted that the operator's CPE and installation costs have dropped from more than $1,100 per home with its legacy products to less than $400 per home with the new X1-based cloud platform syndicated from Comcast. "We're seeing very good unit cost efficiencies," he said. "Unit costs are at or slightly better than anticipated."

Currently, Rogers has switched about 160,000 pay-TV subscribers over to Ignite TV. Plans call for the cableco to roll out the service throughout its footprint and migrate all its video customers over to the new platform over the next couple of years.

Similar to what Comcast, Charter and other MSOs have started to do down in the US, Rogers is also mulling the introduction of a low-cost streaming video service for those who don't want to pay the hefty prices for its pay-TV packages. While company officials did not reveal much about their thinking, they did say the proposed service would allow customers to pick and choose among networks and build their own bundles, no matter how small.

"We don't have a play in that part of the market but something is on the horizon for us," said Rogers President and CEO Joe Natale, who described company officials as "still very bullish" on the video business. "There's more to come with respect to the al la carte part of the market."

In the meantime, Rogers is moving ahead with the deployment of other syndicated products from Comcast. Like Shaw Communications to the west, Rogers is looking to make Ignite a platform that also manages in-home broadband and IoT services, much as Comcast is doing with its xFi home networking management platform. So it's now gearing up to introduce a new, more powerful WiFi hub device and set of WiFi extenders, based on the xFi model.

"We're very excited about the Ignite roadmap and what's coming down the path," Natale said.

While its broadband base is still growing, Rogers could use a little boost on that side of the business as well. The cableco added 22,000 data subscribers in the second quarter, down slightly from 23,000 a year ago, to close out June with nearly 2.47 million subs. We'll have more on Rogers' broadband performance in a story on or sister site, Broadband World News, later today.

Rogers' total Q2 cable revenues climbed 1% to C$997 million. Cable Internet revenues climbed 7%, to C$573 million, while video revenues dipped 1% to C$355 million and cable phone revenues plunged another 20% to C$65 million.

The company's share price was down slightly in morning trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange, slipping to C$69.29, off about 0.9%.

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— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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